Sam Smith – One of the great problems with the way that we approach ethnic discrimination is that we rarely discuss cures other than the condemnation of its examples. The media, for example, seldom discusses solutions. This approach is in full swing right now as can be seen in how little real police reform is being discussed and proposed. Doing away with choke holds won’t come close to solving all the problems. We seem to assume that identifying evil is its cure, which is sadly not the case.
One major exception has been Rev William Barber II who started Moral Mondays in North Carolina in 2013 and has since revived the Poor People’s Campaign.. As historian Timothy Tyson put it, Barber is “the most important progressive political leader in this state in generations,” saying that he “built a statewide interracial fusion political coalition that has not been seriously attempted since 1900.”
In order to have a well working multi ethnic society we need to discuss how to design it. Just attacking racism won’t create its alternative. Here are a few excerpts from an interview Chris Hayes did with Rev. Barber a year ago:
Rev Barber: We commissioned a study called the … Souls of Poor Folk, Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign. Two or three things came up. Number one, we removed poverty out of the political discourse, worst thing we could have ever done, and race as moral issues. So you go through 26 presidential election debates in 2016, not one of them was on poverty. Not one whole debate was on poverty even though 43.5 percent of your people live in poverty and low wealth.
Number two, not one of them is about voter suppression and gerrymandering and restoring the Voting Rights Act, even though in 2016, you have less voting rights than you had in 1965 when the Voting Rights was passed on August the 6th.
That kind of anemic, weak political debate and discourse keeps us in a rut. It’s not honest… Most time if you talk about poverty, people say, “Well, there are more black people in poverty.” That’s not true. There’s more of a concentration of poverty among black people, but in raw numbers, there’s more white people in poverty.
And here’s the ugliness we’ve got to show people. The very people who engage in racist voter suppression and gerrymandering today, when they get that power, guess how they use it? To hurt mostly white people. There are 40 million more poor and low-wealth white people than there are black. People get power using race, then use the power to hurt in raw numbers. Why? Because if you take those former Confederate states, you get close to 170 electoral votes. If you can just control the 13 former Confederate states, you get 31 percent of the United States House of Representatives, and 26 members of the United States Senate.
… If I could put a pin that’s one of the mistakes that I believe of how the health care piece has been pushed. We haven’t rolled it out in the South and shown people in the South how it impacts them, and that’s why you can get a state like North Carolina blocking 500,000 people getting health care, and 346,000 of them are white. And yet people think that it’s primarily going to just minorities.
If you look at what Reconstruction was about, it was about policy. And they were able to find the linkage to show poor white people, their connection to black people, and black people their connection to white people, and how the persons that were the ones that were pushing the racism, pushing the division were actually hurting everybody. And so, you have to learn in this season to do that same kind of moral fusion.
Sam Smith – Fifteen years ago I took part in one of the most remarkable one day conferences I have ever attended. It was designed to bring progressives of different ilks together to agree on a common program. Here’s my report from the time:
In 1995, as an active member of the Green Politics Network, I joined a number of other Greens in hosting a conference of third party activists. Over a hundred showed up, ranging from one of the founders of the ancient American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers, and Democratic Socialists of America. It was a recklessly dangerous idea for a Washington weekend, but Green activists John Rensenbrink, Linda Martin and Tony Affigne seemed to know what they were doing and I was happy to go along.
We established two basic rules:
o We would only discuss issues on which we might find some agreement.
o We would reach that agreement by consensus.
We broke the body into tables of ten or so, each dealing with a different topic. All policies that were proposed were written on newsprint posters. Then participants were given three color stick-on dots with their names on them. Everyone then went up to the board and placed their dots on their favorite issues (cumulative voting style, so that all three dots could, if desired, be placed on one issue). After the vote, those with only their dots on a particular issue were allowed to move them to their second choice (a la instant run-off voting) and so forth until a clear consensus of three issues emerged. This scheme not only produced a consensus, but one that was physical and visual as well as intellectual and was fun to watch.
When the various groups produced their recommendations, they were turned over to what was known as a “fishbowl negotiation.” Each small group selected a representative to negotiate for it with representatives of all the other tables. The representatives sat in a circle with those they represented behind them. Anyone could stop their representative and request a small group conference but only the representative could speak in the larger assembly. It worked remarkably well.
The small group that had the most difficulty with such techniques was comprised mainly of Marxists who had selected economics as their area of concern. One result, ironically, was that the weakest section of the final statement was that dealing with economics. On the other hand, the libertarians came to the organizers at one point and offered to leave the meeting so a full consensus could be maintained. We encouraged them to stick around, changing our own rules to accept several levels of consensus.
Despite the wide range of views present, despite the near total absence of Robert’s Rules of Order, the final document, with full consensus, called for nothing less than a major transformation. The group unanimously agreed to support proportional representation, campaign finance reform “to provide a level playing field in elections;” initiative, referendum and recall; better ballot access; the end of corporate welfare; strong environmental policies; sexual and reproductive freedom; an end to the war on drugs and treatment of addiction as a health matter rather than as a crime; a dramatic cut in military expenditures; workplace democracy and the maximum empowerment of people in their communities “consistent with fairness, social responsibilities and human rights.”
Not bad for a group ranging from one of the founders of the ancient American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers and Democratic Socialists of America. It shouldn’t have worked at all, but because the rules we had used felt fair to those present, it did. By ignoring topics of obvious disagreement, we even surprised ourselves with the level of consensus.
We had also discovered the possibility of a political transformation, of moving beyond left and right. We understood that these were different times — not the thirties, not the sixties — times that required different imaginations and different risks. We had reached out and had found that we were not alone.
I have since repeatedly had the dream that national leaders of the black, latino, women’s, labor and youth communities would come together for similar discussions. You can’t create a working multi-cultural society if you don’t even sit down and talk with each other.